July 30, 2020 at 04:09PM
How “Host” was made on Zoom in lockdown
THE SCENE will be familiar to those who have endured the strangeness of socialising digitally in lockdown. A group of friends log on to Zoom to chat: some are enjoying a glass of wine, one goofs around with a virtual background. Then one of their number hears a strange noise coming from his attic. Egged on by his chums, and armed with a torch and his phone, the man goes to investigate. Suddenly something horrible happens; the man appears to lie lifeless on the floor. “That’s incredible,” one friend says. Then, “How did you do that?”
He was right to be sceptical. The apparent victim was Rob Savage, a 28-year-old British director known for creating horror shorts such as “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf”, and the prank was his creative solution to boredom in self-isolation. The video soon went viral on Twitter, winning praise from Michael Flannagan, an American director of horror films, and Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, the directors of “REC” (2007), a Spanish horror classic (a clip from that film was used in the prank video).
Encouraged by this success, Mr Savage decided to try to put together a full-length horror film from home. When the coronavirus pandemic took hold “everyone was saying who’s going to make the first film on Zoom,” Mr Savage recalls (via the same video-conferencing software, somewhat disconcertingly). “Then no one did. So I thought: ‘Maybe I could do that.’” The resulting movie, “Host”, was worldwide on July 30th.
“Host” tells the story of six friends who hire a medium to hold a video séance during lockdown. The concept came from one of Mr Savage’s earlier projects, the research for which had required him to join a spiritualist church and attend interventions every Wednesday night for six months. He was still in touch with the mediums and, upon hearing that they were doing digital rituals, decided it would be a great fit for the film. Along with Jed Shepherd, his producing and writing partner, Mr Savage sketched out some ideas before calling in Gemma Hurley to refine them into a script. It took only two weeks from initial concept to finished screenplay.
Mr Savage says he then called the friends who had filmed the prank video with him and asked if they’d be willing to take on another project. Fortunately those friends included actors who didn’t mind a challenge; as well as performing, they operated their own cameras and lit their own scenes. In order to prepare the participants and make sure that the script was realistic, Mr Savage organised a real séance. One member of the cast, Jemma Moore, “had a book come off her shelf in the background and she got freaked out and started crying and that made it into the movie,” Mr Savage confides. “It wasn’t a conventional process by any means.”
The director had to navigate the challenges of remote working, too. “I’d sit on these Zoom calls hidden and if something was trailing off, I’d unmute myself and tell them to go back or suggest something new. I was directing off the cuff and figuring it out.” Once he was happy with the material Brenna Rangott, the editor, had a month to cut it together. The film mainly used special effects—ie, illusions or visual tricks captured on camera—rather than computer-generated imagery, which made her task more straightforward.
The “found footage” subgenre—in which the film is presented as if it were discovered film, audio or video—was popularised by “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999. In recent years, amid the rise of social media and video-call technology, the theme has resurfaced in movies such as “Unfriended” (2015) and “Searching” (2018). When making “Host”, Mr Savage wanted to make sure he didn’t rely on any of the clichés of the format. “There are a few big pet hates in found-footage horror that we have…Using a fake camera glitch is something you always see especially in those big-budget films. [Mr Shepherd] told me if I used too much glitching he’d disown the film. Another was a camera falling in a convenient place: a rule I broke a bunch of times.”
Yet “Host” has a big advantage over other films of its kind: it possesses a timely, credible set-up and its audience will be familiar with the technology. Millions of people have been using Zoom for work meetings, family get-togethers and quizzes with friends. The movie inventively and with great wit uses the aforementioned glitches, the virtual backgrounds, a selfie stick and the 40-minute span of a free Zoom call. (Zoom granted the film-makers permission to use its assets and even helped to improve the quality of the visuals.) “Host” is particularly good at portraying the enforced intimacy of friendship in the age of video conferencing: the way partners lurk in the background, bedrooms and kitchens become public spaces and resentments simmer visibly throughout conversations. Mr Savage has shown what can be accomplished with limited resources and in difficult circumstances and, in the process, has positioned himself as one of the most promising talents in British horror.
“Host” is available to stream via Shudder now
Author: | Post link: https://www.economist.com/prospero/2020/07/30/how-host-was-made-on-zoom-in-lockdown
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